An Interview with my Mother….

What follows is a transcript from an interview I did with my mother over the phone for a school assignment….

When you were born, what were social expectations for you growing up?

I don’t remember much of my early years. I was born in 1938 and the war started in 1941 by the time the war started I was three years old…. I don’t remember much about growing up in a normal sense, such as reading books and going to bed at night since were refugees of the second world war and were living in caves alongside mountains, growing our own food…As a child in the Philippines you are to be seen but not heard. Crying and whining are not allowed, whether or not you are at home or in public. We are supposed to behave and remain compliant. So parents there were more authoritative and less empathetic….

Give me an example….

Basically any adult, relatives or even strangers, can tell a child to behave. You never do this in America. As children we behaved, and Papa spanked us as kids with a rolled up newspaper. As we grew older, then Mama did the spanking, we would have to lie on the bed and she did so with a slipper on the butt. So basically as children you behaved, especially when we were out in public….We were also responsible, for chores and essential activities of daily living…We said the rosary every night….You have to respect your older siblings. I have to respect Rebecca even though she is a year and a half older than I. I had to respect Rebecca. You don’t talk back to your elders ever.

How did it feel like here? How would you compare American culture to this? What do you feel about American culture from your perspective?

American parents are so much more permissive. In a way it is great at times, but you see American kids whine and whine, until they get their way. Over here kids are so much more familiar.

This reminds me of that story of that kid when you were in Texas while you were a resident at Baylor University, and he called his father “old man”.

 Yeah, he told his mother “hey call your old man and come over to see this.”

Remember how your mother got mad because you called dad’s father “BOB”.

My mother told me not to call your father in law “BOB”, you call him “DAD”, it is much more respectful….In the Philippines, you never call an adult by their first name, you would say Mrs. Something. The other thing in America because of all this permissiveness, the spinoff is kids are left disrespecting authority, and are less compliant as a result. In the Philippines kids are compliant, we comply with what our elders tell us, that’s the biggest difference. What seems is that defiance of adults and elders exists amongst American youth, is common, as in “you don’t understand”.   Despite all these differences, there were still many similarities between your Caucasian father and Filipino mother. Our standards were the same, in that we were both raised Christian in a Westernized culture, and were highly educated. My biggest issue was getting a handle of how to raise a kid in this culture. You wanted moon boots or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, do I relent, yes or no? Just because that’s what everybody else in this culture is doing, does that mean you must as well? It’s hard for me as a foreigner to fully impose my Filipino upbringing 100% upon you. You were American in an entirely different culture…..

When you were a teenager, what were the norms, values and gender roles supported within your family, peers, culture and in the dominant culture?

 The other reality of my upbringing in the Philippines was you didn’t date until College. By the time you are in college you have some degree of maturity and did it then. We didn’t drink in high school, we did not date, we had no car, and there were no extracurricular activities in our public schools. Our society couldn’t afford them as you can here. When you go home you walk or take the bus and your mother was there. The norm was that you maintained your virginity as a girl. I was a virgin for a long time, because I was never propositioned. The boys don’t propositioned the girls.   I don’t think teenage boys that young, are knowledgeable of how to do such things. We had no money as teenagers. We didn’t work at McDonalds. Boys and girls have no money. Many families can’t afford a car. We didn’t own a car until High School. We didn’t have a television until High School. We had crushes like everyone. It was never actualized. In the Philippines you did what your elders said and accept their wisdom. We don’t have the high school wisdom, they “don’t understand”, sums up a complaint of American kids. Even if you don’t take the advice, by asking it, they might make you their favorite. They appreciate this. Here if you’re misbehaving, and adult can correct you, and you will listen, even if they aren’t your parents. Here if your child is messing around, everyone could know, but nobody would tell me, including friends because here you mind your own business. Back home, you mess around, any adult can take you to ask, and somebody will notify your family.

….The problem with America is its very permissive, and the notion of being very familiar with adults, and a strong tendency to pair up very young. You’re nobody unless you have a boyfriend. There is a strong need in adolescence to be popular and fit in. There is a ladder, like a pecking scale. Teenagers are so insecure it seems like so much to handle at that age…As a girl, we didn’t wear makeup. In college you wear lipstick. This is when you start dating college. It seems easier, puberty is done, you know who you are and are more developed….

…I think it’s also easier in the Philippines growing up because of the extended family system. I had 24 cousins we all lived on Grandma’s piece of land, building five houses on it. It was a communal area we spilled out of the houses, and played together. We didn’t have the toys or technology you did but still figured out of things to do. There was really no bullying, because in school, if you are picked on at recess, you have many cousins and relatives to stand up for you. There is always a bigger and older cousin or sibling looking out for you. On the same note, if you are misbehaving, they will also inform adults, and you will be punished. This is because the reputation of the family is important, and protected in this respect. My mother’s family, the Gonzales family, has a good reputation in town. Among all 24 cousins, nobody got in trouble, and we were all upstanding citizens. I all these respects it’s a much safer environment.

So how does this relate to your sense of identity? It seems like in the states like there are more cultural and peer oriented influences. In your culture, would it be safe to say that being part of a family plays a bigger role?

Yes. The ideal family size growing up is 3-4 kids. The family structure in the Philippines, I think this is because we are Southeast Asian. you know of Confucianism? Philippines is a melting pot, Spain came to the Philippines in 1400, so we are Christian, but we do have a lot of Chinese, Japanese, and Indian emigrating to the Philippines. So there is also Confucianism, and it you revere your ancestors. As a matter of fact, there are names for the first-born son. My mother is firstborn, she is called “Ate”, they call her this and not Maria.   The second born is called “Eche”, that is my aunt who is a Physician. You call siblings by birth order. I was “Nene” which means baby for the youngest child. I am the youngest. You are supposed to respect your elders….

When we were little, if Rebecca and I were fighting, I would get spanked.   I would get a swat. Rebecca might get one to, but by being older she may or may not get one. I would be in the family room, and Rebecca is in the bedroom with Mama, if she gets spanked, I don’t know. She also doesn’t show the emotions to give me the privilege of knowing whether or not she was spanked. I never knew because it wasn’t in my presence. I would not get that satisfaction from her.

Fast-forward to when we decided to get married, I wrote my parents twice, the second time I sent a copy to my sister. Shortly thereafter, Rebecca a week later decided to visit, and told us to pick her up at the airport to check her up. Later that night she called our parents to give her approval, and then they responded with a letter of approval. Rebecca did behave as an older sister. When you were born, she bought everything I would need for you, including furniture and clothes.   She was very generous and helpful.

It’s not the oldest boy in the family but firstborn male or female that has the position of respect in the family. This, for example, was the authority amongst her brothers and sister. Our society really looks up to authority, number one, and secondly our society respects the primacy of elders. You do what your elders say.

My grandmother in the 1930’s was a widow, put five kids through college on our own, including the girls. They all earned colleges degrees in the 1930’s as women.   Our family is very matriarchal. Papa gave his paycheck to mama. Mama saved a portion, and divided the rest into four weeks cash. There was no checkbook and we lived off cash. She ruled the finances and was in charge of disciplining us kids. If you think about it, it’s logical that the woman is in charge of the money. She’s running the house and should know what is available for necessities. She never nags her husband for money, to spend on stuff. It’s not the man who spends the money; it’s the woman to run the home. She should know.

How is that different from here?

Here in the 1940’s-1950’s the father was in charge of the finances more often.   Jeff’s dad was in charge, and if his mom wanted mom, she needed to ask. They fought about stuff more. They were more affluent here, not having to experience losses from war as we had. They wanted things, material things.   You don’t think about necessities here as much. First and foremost are food, clothing and shelter. People don’t think of retirement or saving. Back home we have no health insurance, no nursing homes, no student loans. You saved for these things and paid out of pocket. You saved.…..

Regarding norms and values of your culture. Our culture was close Confucianism and a melting pot. We had a history that blended Christian tradition with Confucianism, and then America came and chased the Spanish out. There was already a revolution going on in 1890’s but we had not navy, so America helped. Then we were worried about another power overtaking us. America and the Philippines fought for a time in 1898 about. Apparently a bunch of Filipino rebels were killed, but then American came here, and your teachers came, and English instead of Spanish was taught in schools. My grandparent’s generation was in Spanish, and was taught that language.   My mothers generation learned English instead, as was I.

Like I said we are Southeast Asian, but are mainly westernized Christians and our norms have a touch of Confucianism in that we value elder’s opinions. The reason for this is to keep order in families and society in general. Gender roles admittedly aren’t much different than America. My father was the primary wage earner; my mother was in charge of the home, but also held a job. As far as gender roles, everyone has an opportunity. My Grandma in the 1930’s put five kids in school including girls. My mother majored in biology, another aunt is a doctor, and the other was a chemist. My grandma did not just send the boys to school. If you have the aptitude you had an opportunity

How does religion play a role in identity?

Everybody is primarily Catholic. The country is 95% catholic, I would guess. There are other religions, but Catholicism is predominating.   We are also very westernized….

How was your view of the world shaped by the social movements of your teenage years?

We are very westernized as a country and were very much influenced by America. I grew up with Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and The Everly Brothers. We saw movies and T.V. too, such as Mission Impossible, Bonanza, and I Love Lucy. American Music influenced me, because you heard it on the radio. We did have magazines, but I didn’t have television until high school. As a matter of fact, Rebecca would write celebrities and receive a signed letter from them. We didn’t have any social movements resulting from teenage angst, or youth rebellion. I was around during the Korean War, and Philippines went to war. I remember it being in the newspapers regularly. My cousins and I were young, and my aunts and uncles were old. We had no personal experiences with Korea. Just like Jeff, as an American who didn’t know of WW2 as a child. We were unaffected. American influenced us in music tastes as well as fashion. I remember wearing saddle shoes and poodle skirts. I remember when Russia put out sputnik we worried, and rooted for America. Another thing about social movements. We are very diverse as a culture but we really didn’t not have the racially based issues you have. I grew up as a member of the majority. We all appeared Filipino. I have some Spanish and Chinese in me but had never developed any chip on my shoulder through discrimination. I feel if I fail its my failure, if I success its my success. It’s all on me.

When you were a young adult, what educational and occupational opp]ortunities available to you? And now?

The reason we are compliant with our elders is because you rely on them for education as well as food, clothing, and shelter. In the Philippines it is somewhat a given that the parents pay for the child’s education, if able to at all. If you have the drive and ability, you are encouraged to go to College. Your ability to go to college is ability of your parents to pay. This is because there are no Federally Guaranteed Student Loans.   This is what’s different about America. Anybody here can get an education. Back home, if parents are well off, you stand on their shoulders as they pay your education. If not, you can have the ability, but not the resources to get a degree. It really is also an unspoken fact that when you do finish your education, you better have a marketable skill, career, and you support your elders in their old age because basically they gave up their retirement for your education.   Usually in the Philippines, the parents live in the kids’ house. Grandma then does the babysitting and usually does it for free. That also makes it difficult to get away from things, because Grandma is there to watch over everyone.   The education of your child is your form of retirement.

What generational roles make up your core identity?

 I remember Charlotte, Jeff’s father. She said, I raised my kids; I’m not raising my grandkids. Grandparents are less liable to assist kids with babysitting.   I’m kind of along those lines now. Back home, the three generations have a role in a family. Grandma enjoys all the grandchildren because all 24 lived next door in houses built on her land…..

…..Families are authoritative to some extent. If you think about it, children don’t have much ability to think in the future.   More guidance is important.

What is your core identity now?

I was never conflicted in my identity, I just was clueless about much regarding raising kids here. I should have kept up on what went on with your education. I should have been more on top of enforcing you to do well. You guys didn’t tell me anything. I remember a lady in church say jokingly, “I hear Dorene has a boyfriend”.   I just smiled and nodded. I only found out your sister was dating this way.   There are so many different kinds of kids and different kinds of parents.   No one child is the same. Every child has different needs, every parent has a unique set of life experiences. I think in your case you wanted to spare my feelings because I was a foreigner. You didn’t tell me what was going on.

When you settle down, you prefer to do so in one you can feel somewhat familiar with, and less likely to feel comfortable one, which is highly foreign. Philippines, like America, is very Westernized. Additionally, your father and I were raised Christian.

How was it moving here?

When I moved here back as a resident, I had a good command of the language. the Filipino t.v. Anchors speak American Midwest English. I have trouble understanding other accents, but Midwest accents make sense to me. The thing I had trouble with were idioms such as “the cat’s meow”. I do feel my fellow residence at Baylor treated me fairly, although I was the only female, foreigner, minority in the program.   Although I do believe I imposed this upon myself, I felt I had to be twice as good to be good enough. I felt determined to prove myself. I was over prepared with a goal to do twice as good as anyone else. What did help is my older sister was already a resident at Baylor going to school. We were there together. I do remember people sometimes were surprised I was the housekeeping staff and not the physician in scrubs, so I learned to dress well and look the part. You know if I received discrimination from patients at times who didn’t want me to care for them because of my color. Oftentimes they were minorities like me, which surprised me. Nonetheless, I had to work hard to prove myself over time.   There was a time when I had trouble on the bus system. I took myself at face value, yet there were people who felt I shouldn’t sit here at a certain location on the bus. Since it wasn’t illegal to do so, I would stay there. They were the ignoramuses. I found it hurts only you if you put value upon the opinions of those people. I know who I am and stick to that identity of myself. To tell you the truth today, I don’t think of myself in terms of race, but as a person. The same goes for you, your sister or your father.   We are just a family; people.   I didn’t have the effects of being a minority growing up. While the Philippines is a melting pot country, but it was less “in your face” as an issue. In this country, it is more an issue in an “in your face manner”.   Back home, we are so diverse as people it wasn’t an issue. I, for example, have Spanish and Chinese in my family background, as do you through me.

I’m being fair to each child. You give your child what they need, as they need it. Make your own way. Let go of any old gripes they aren’t worth the familial disharmony. Your successes are your own, as are your failures. I see myself as me; I am Virginia first and foremost. Race in a respect is a social construct, not genetic fact.   My identity is a choice of my own that I make it for myself irrespective of what comes at me from the race perspective.

Share This: